9th February 2022

Increased Penalties for Livestock Worrying- a Stark Reminder for Dog Owners

In November of 2021 the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2021 introduced higher penalties for dog owners if their pet attacks or worries livestock. With lighter nights creeping back in and lambing season fast approaching the 2021 Act should hopefully serve as a reminder for all dog owners of what is at stake if their dog chases or kills livestock.

The scope for reasonable access to farmland by the public was widened by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. However, section 9 of that Act specifies that access taken with a dog that is not under control is not considered responsible. Livestock worrying has been an issue for farmers and landowners for some time however recent figures from the Scottish Government have highlighted that there were more than 100 livestock worrying incidents reported to Police Scotland between April and November in 2021.  There were concerns that due to the restrictions brought in by the COVID-19 legislation more members of the public were taking exercise on farmland which in turn leaves livestock vulnerable. There is however evidence to suggest that due to significant under-reporting the actual number of incidents is likely to be much higher.

So, what does the Act say?

Under previous legislation the offence of ‘Worrying’ was somewhat of a catchall phrase and often the gravity of the offence was taken too lightly. The 2021 Act has renamed the principal offence as an “Offence where a dog attacks or worries livestock on agricultural land”.  As attacking was previously covered by “Worrying” it is hoped that this amendment will draw public attention to the severity of the crime.

Under the 2021 Act “Worrying” will continue to mean:

The chasing of livestock in such a way as may be expected to cause injury or suffering to the livestock or, in the case of females, abortion, or loss in their young or the act of the dog being “at large” (that is not on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field or enclosure containing sheep (note this element applies only to sheep and no other livestock).

The categories of livestock involved have also been widened to now include– llamas, alpacas, deer, buffalo and enclosed game birds, alongside the original “cattle, sheep, goats, swine, horses, or poultry”.

Increased penalties

The 2021 Act provides for a fine of up to £40,000 (mirroring penalties for animal welfare offences) and up to 12 months’ imprisonment.

Additional police powers

The police are also given greater powers to gather evidence. Under previous legislation the police could only seize the dog from the land where the attack took place and only for the purpose of locating its owner. The 2021 Act has made it possible for the dog to be seized from any outdoor location, not just where the offence happened and the purposes for which the dog can be seized have been extended to include the gathering of evidence.

It is hoped that the increased penalties along with the additional police powers will help reduce the number of offences in the coming spring and also encourage farmers who have suffered to report the incident and prevent future attacks.

If you need any advice regarding livestock worrying, please get in touch with the Blackadders Rural Team working in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth, and across Scotland.

Fiona James, Rural Land and Business Solicitor

Fiona (Buffy) James, Solicitor
Rural Land & Business
Blackadders LLP


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